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The Bells of Twyford

Early in the 18th century, in Hampshire, William Davis was riding in a dense mist, unsure of his way, when the bells of Twyford Church rang out. His horse started, and stopped just in time for Mr Davis to realise they were about to plunge into a chalk pit.

In gratitude, Davis bequeathed the sum of twenty shillings to pay for an annual dinner for the bell ringers of Twyford Church, provided they rang the bells twice on every October the 7th, the date of his near escape. For over two centuries the bells have rung out twice on the day.

Bell-ringing is practiced almost entirely in England, and in places where Brits have settled. It is a skill that has been handed down in an unbroken chain for hundreds of years. It is not quite as easy as it appears, as I have learned. At Twyford Church, where I am learning the ropes, eight bells hang unseen overhead and some of the bells weigh between a quarter and half a ton. There are usually eight people in the ringing chamber each pulling on a bell rope that swings the bell in the bell chamber that is directly above.

The bells are stored hanging down. To ring them, you have to “ring them up” and get them in a standing up position. Each chime involves a hand-stroke and a back-stroke, and the ringers follow musical patterns so the bells have a constantly changing sequence.

Even with traffic noise from the motorway, the bells can be heard half a mile away and more when weather conditions are right. Undoubtedly in the time of Mr Davis, before the invention of the internal combustion engine, they would have been heard even further away.

His original bequest has been supplemented by the fees paid bell ringers for ringing at weddings, and by a generous further bequest by one of Mr. Davis’ descendants, Lee Shipley. This year the bell ringers enjoyed a very fine repast on October 17.